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Follow Your Nose to Flu Prevention

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COLUMBUS, Ga.-Not needing a shot in the arm could be a real shot in the arm for the campaign promoting flu vaccinations.

FluMist, given approval in June by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in this country, has arrived at medical offices.

And the only place a patient will get stuck is in the wallet.

"Right now," said Dr. Bayley Royer, a family physician in Columbus, "it's going to be a little pricey. I'd say probably anywhere from $70-$100, which is several times more than what you'd pay for a shot. But if you want to avoid the flu and are nervous about needles, then it's worth the price."

Royer added that most insurance companies won't cover FluMist at this time. And not all doctors or health departments are carrying it.

The gain-without-pain FluMist is manufactured by Medlmmune Vaccines Inc. and marketed by Wyeth Vaccines. It is a nasal mist vaccine for active immunization against influenza A and B viruses in healthy people ages 5-49.

"That is the age group that the research was done with," Royer said.

"That's not to say it wouldn't help someone older or younger, but there's just not enough data. More research is being done on that."

Royer got a dose of FluMist himself recently. Administering it to him was Linda Chin, a fellow physician at Family Care North.

Royer sat in a chair as Chin sprayed the mist into one nostril, then the next.

"Makes my eyes water a bit," he said.

He noticed that some of the medication dripped onto his tie.

"It doesn't matter," Chin said. "As long as we get a good amount into the nasal passages, it should do the job. No flu vaccine is a guarantee against the flu, but your chances of not getting the flu are greatly increased with a vaccination."

Royer said that all he felt was a "puff."

"It didn't feel like a stream of liquid was being shot up my nose, nothing running down my throat, no aftertaste," he said.

Royer expected to have a runny nose for a couple of days as a side effect. Other possible side effects include headache and sore throat.

"It's only a myth that the vaccination gives you the flu," Chin said.

"Of course, if you have a runny nose and some other symptoms, you might think you're coming down with something."

FluMist is not for pregnant women, people with asthma or children receiving aspirin therapy.

Adults only get one dose up each nostril, but children ages 5-8 require two. The vaccine comes prepackaged in the applicator so there can be no mistake in dosage.

A difference in the shot and the mist is that the shot contains dead influenza A and B viruses, while FluMist contains live but weakened influenza A and B viruses.

The small dose of the virus works, Chin said, to strengthen the immune system. Antibodies should fight off the virus if you come in contact with a stronger dose.

"The flu," Royer said, "is a respiratory virus which people breathe in, so it makes sense to fight it by way of the nasal passage."

Both Chin and Royer said it's important to receive a flu vaccination - by shot or nasal mist - by December. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states that 36,000 people die of complications from the flu every year and about 114,000 are hospitalized.

"Why take the risk of feeling so bad," asked Royer, "of missing several days of work or school when you can get a shot or spray and protect yourself?"



What: Influenza is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract. It passes when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, tiredness, muscle ache. There may also be gastro-intestinal symptoms such as vomiting, especially with children.

Complications: Dehydration and pneumonia as well as worsening of chronic health conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes or asthma.

Exposure: A person usually becomes sick within four days of being exposed, with an average of about two.

Contagious: An adult is contagious from one day before being sick until three to seven days after. Children may be contagious longer.

Protection: The best way to protect yourself is by getting a flu shot.

At risk: At high risk are people ages 50 or older, residents of nursing homes, healthcare workers, those who work with children, and people ages 6 months or older with chronic illnesses such as asthma or diabetes.

Numbers: Each year 10-20 percent of Americans get the flu, with an average of 114,000 being hospitalized. About 36,000 die each year from flu complications.

Flu season: In the U.S. the peak of the flu season is from December through March.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



What: FluMist is a different way of getting the flu vaccine. It is sprayed into the nose rather than given by injection.

Cost: It should run between $70 and $100 compared to a price range of $10 to $35 for a shot. Most insurance companies won't pay for it.

Where: Check with your physician.

Who: FluMist is indicated for healthy children, adolescents and adults ages 5-49.


(c) 2003, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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